62 of the World's Most Beautiful Libraries

iStock/clu
iStock/clu

For the last couple years, Jill Harness has been rounding up the world's most beautiful libraries by continent. Here they are all in one place, in no particular order.

1. TRINITY COLLEGE LIBRARY // IRELAND

Aside from being absolutely gorgeous, with two story dark wooden arches, this is also the largest library in all of Ireland. It serves as the country’s copyright library, where a copy of all new books and periodicals must be sent when they apply for copyright protection. The library is also home to the famous Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript created by Celtic monks around the year 800.

2. BRISTOL CENTRAL LIBRARY // ENGLAND

This library, completed in 1906, is fascinating for its unique combination of architectural styles. The front exterior was designed in Tudor Revival and Modern Movement styles in order to allow it to harmonize with the next-door Abbey Gatehouse. It was built on a slope, and the front of the building is only three stories tall, but thanks to the two basement levels built into the hill, the back of the building has five stories. Inside, the design is mostly Classical, featuring ample arches, marble flooring and a stunning turquoise glass mosaic at the entrance hall.

3. CODRINGTON LIBRARY // ENGLAND

The Codrington Library of Oxford University was completed in 1751 and has been used by scholars ever since. In the late 1990s, the building underwent a massive renovation in order to provide better protection for the books and to make the library more user friendly with better wiring and some new electronic work stations.

4. BIBLIOTHEQUE NATIONALE DE FRANCE // FRANCE

The National Library of France has expanded greatly since new buildings were added to house the collection in 1988. Even so, the old buildings on the Rue de Richelieu are still in use, and are utterly gorgeous as well. These buildings were completed in 1868, and by 1896 the library was the largest book repository in the world, although that record has since been taken from it.

5. The Library of El Escorial, Spain

This library is located in the Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, the historical residence of the king of Spain. Phillip II was responsible for adding the library and most of the books originally held within. The vaulted ceilings were painted with gorgeous frescoes, each representing one of the seven liberal arts: rhetoric, dialectic, music, grammar, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy. These days, the library is a World Heritage Site, and it holds more than 40,000 volumes.

6. Biblioteca Geral, University of Coimbra, Portugal

The General Library of the University of Coimbra consists of two buildings: the New Building built in 1962, and the Joanina Library built in 1725. The Joanina Library is adorned with Baroque décor and houses the library’s volumes that date from before 1800.

7. HANDELINGENKAMER, NETHERLANDS

The library of the Dutch Parliament contains every record of parliamentary hearings and discussions. Because it was built before electric lighting made the storage of books a lot safer, the building was constructed with a massive leaded glass dome in the ceiling to allow in light and minimize the need for candles and gas lamps inside the library.

8. DELFT UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY LIBRARY // NETHERLANDS

While modern architecture can often be fascinating, it rarely stands up to more classical designs in terms of beauty. The Delft University of Technology library is a rare exception. With a massive skylight in the ceiling that becomes a steel cone after escaping the confines of the library, and an eco-friendly grass-covered roof, the library is both stunning and totally modern.

9. ABBEY LIBRARY OF ST. GALLEN // SWITZERLAND

This lovely library is not only the oldest in Switzerland, but one of the oldest and most important monastery libraries in the world, holding over 160,000 volumes many of which date back as far as the 8th century. The Rococo-styled library is often considered one of the most perfect libraries in the world and has earned the Abbey recognition as a World Heritage Site.

10. ADMONT ABBEY LIBRARY // AUSTRIA

Built in 1776, the Admont Abbey Library is the largest monastery library in the world. The ceiling is adorned with frescoes depicting the stages of human knowledge up until the Divine Revelation. The entire design reflects the ideals and values of the Enlightenment.

11. Melk Monastery Library, Austria

The Baroque-styled abbey and the library within were completed in 1736 based on designs by Jakob Prandtauer. The library includes a world-famous collection of musical manuscripts and features stunning frescoes by artist Paul Troger.

12. AUSTRIAN NATIONAL LIBRARY // AUSTRIA

Austria’s largest library is located in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna and houses over 7.4 million items in its collections. The library was completed in 1723 and features sculptures by Lorenzo Mattielli and Peter Strudel and frescoes by Daniel Gran.

13. WIBLINGEN MONASTERY LIBRARY // GERMANY

This library, completed in 1744, was modeled in the Baroque style after the Austrian National Library, but it is by no means just a cheap imitation of the original, and it certainly stands on its own. Just outside the library there is an inscription reading “In quo omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae,” which translates to “In which are stored all treasures of knowledge and science.”

14. STRAHOV MONASTERY LIBRARY // CZECH REPUBLIC

This impressive library collection contains over 200,000 volumes, including just about every important title printed in central Europe by the end of the 18th century. And as if the gorgeous décor and impressive book collection weren’t impressive enough on their own, the library also has a favorite feature of many geeks –- two secret passageways hidden by bookshelves and opened with fake books.

15. CLEMENTINUM NATIONAL LIBRARY // CZECH REPUBLIC

The series of buildings that make up this National Library owe their inception to an 11th century chapel dedicated to Saint Clement (hence the name). The National Library itself was founded in 1781, constructed in a Baroque style, and has served as a copyright library since 1782. The collection now includes historical examples of Czech literature, special materials relating to Tycho Brahe, and a unique collection of Mozart’s personal effects.

16. THE ROYAL PORTUGUESE READING ROOM // BRAZIL

The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura in Rio de Janeiro holds more Portuguese works than anywhere else outside of Portugal, including a number of rare titles. Completed in 1887, the building's design is based on the Gothic-renaissance style that was popular at the time of the Portuguese colonization of Brazil. Inside the library are both a stunning chandelier and a gorgeous iron skylight that was the first of its kind in the country.

17. THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF BRAZIL // BRAZIL

Another amazing library of Rio, the National Library of Brazil was constructed back in 1810 and has since become the largest library in Latin America and the 7th largest in the world. As a copyright library, publishers have been required to send over one copy of every title they've published since 1907, pushing the library’s collection to over 9 million items, including a number of rare books and an extensive collection of over 21,500 photos all dating from before 1890.

18. The National Library of Chile

Featuring a similar style to the National Library of Brazil, this beautiful building was designed in 1913 and completed in 1925 with a neoclassical design meant to commemorate the country’s centenary anniversary. Aside from housing the National Library, the building serves as headquarters to the country’s National Archives.

19. THE LIBRARY OF THE SAN FRANCISCO MONASTERY // Peru

The library in Lima’s San Francisco Monastery is one of the oldest and most beautiful on the continent. The stunning convent was completed in 1672, with renovations and improvements continuing up until 1729. The 25,000 volumes contained therein are extremely rare, chronicling a massive variety of knowledge dating from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries.

20. HOME OF PERUVIAN LITERATURE // PERU

If you think the architecture of this building looks familiar, that’s because it was a commonly used design for train stations around the early 1900s. As for why this library looks like a train station, well, that’s simple—it used to be one. In fact, it wasn’t converted into a library until 2009. In an effort to get more of the country’s citizens to read and to support the country’s artists and writers, the library features over 20,000 works, mostly written by or about native Peruvians.

21. PUBLIC LIBRARY OF LIMA// PERU

The previous home to the National Library of Peru, the Public Library of Lima was completed in the 1940s with a small addition completed in 1974. It's been declared a historical monument by the country’s National Institute of Culture. The main gallery features marble floors and stairs, sculptures of the library’s founders, and gorgeous high ceilings.

22. NATIONAL LIBRARY // COSTA RICA

With a massive upside-down arch above a glass window and concrete levels sandwiching a fragile-looking glass central story, the National Library of Costa Rica is quite striking. It still appears modern despite being over 40 years old. Unfortunately, the location has been subject to a number of earthquakes, leading to a number of closures over the years.

23. VIRGILIO BARCO LIBRARY // COLOMBIA

If you are a fan of modern architectural design, then you’ll really love what Colombia has created in the last decade or so. Famed architect Rogelio Salmona designed this library, completed in 2001. Featuring red brick walls, blue water pools and green lawns, this creative design looks like a maze of colors housing a labyrinth of books inside.

24. SPANISH PARK LIBRARY // COLOMBIA

The Parque Biblioteca España stands out from its native Santo Domingo more than any other library on this list. That’s because the striking modernist design of its three boulder-like structures stands in stark contrast to the simple homes of the neighborhood around them. The architect designed the building, specifically its odd windows, as a way to help the impoverished community imagine bigger and better things, says architect Giancarlo Mazzanti. “We wanted to take people from this poor community into another place and change their reality.”

25. EPM LIBRARY // COLOMBIA

Designed like an upside-down pyramid, the EPM library, completed in 2005, may be a unique architectural feat, but its best-known feature remains the odd forest of white columns located just outside. Even so, the 107,000 square foot interior is quite beautiful, particularly the strikingly angled walls.

26. VILLANUEVA PUBLIC LIBRARY // COLOMBIA

Perhaps the most famous of Colombia’s new libraries is the Villanueva Public Library, which was constructed using not only locally sourced materials, but also by the people of the village. Stones were gathered from nearby rivers and sustainable wood from nearby forests, and local people were trained to help construct the building. The design, created by four nearby college students, focuses on natural ventilation and plenty of shade to keep the interior nice and cool. All of these cost-cutting measures went a long way in helping a truly impoverished area secure a much-needed library.

27. Central Library of Vancouver, Canada

Many modern building designs are based on historical icons, but few of these designs focus on the ruins rather than the original. The Central Library of Vancouver is an exception. Based on the Roman Coliseum, this massive building takes up one full city block and features not only a library with 1.3 million reference materials, but also retail shops, restaurants, a parking structure, office buildings and a rooftop garden.

28. LIBRARY OF PARLIAMENT // CANADA

The Library of Parliament was once part of the city’s original Parliamentary headquarters constructed in 1876. The building had been under construction for ten years before it was revealed that the builders didn’t know how to create a domed roof as seen in the plans. To get around this issue, the Tomas Fairbairn Engineering Company of England was commissioned to create a pre-fabricated dome. As a result, the building had the distinction of being the first building in North America to have a wrought iron roof. The unique Gothic building is so iconic that today it is even featured on the Canadian ten-dollar bill.

29. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS // USA

The Library of Congress, a personal favorite, is the largest library in the entire world as ranked by both shelf space and number of books. Among its several buildings, the oldest is the Thomas Jefferson Building, which just might be the most beautiful structure in the library system. Completed in 1897, the library's neoclassical style features some of the most intricate interiors of any building in the U.S., including murals and sculptures from a variety of classically-trained American artists. Interestingly, the building’s exterior was even more lavish than it is now, as it was originally gilded, but this was criticized as it was believed to draw attention away from the Capitol Building. These days, the roof consists merely of copper that has aged to a sea green shade.

30. STEPHEN A. SCHWARZMAN LIBRARY // USA

You might recognize this National Historical Landmark, better known simply as the “New York Public Library,” by the two stone lions guarding the building (known as either Lord Astor and Lady Lenox or Patience and Fortitude). Inside, the wooden shelves, frescoed ceilings and grand chandeliers give the entire building an old-world feel. Completed in 1911, the library featured more than 75 miles of shelves when it was first opened. The collection still managed to grow too large for its home by 1970, so the library was expanded by adding an underground area that extends under nearby Bryant Park.

31. FREDERICK FERRIS THOMPSON MEMORIAL LIBRARY IN VASSAR COLLEGE // USA

This massive Gothic structure consists of three wings and a central tower, and now houses around a million books, 7500 periodicals, and a massive microfilm and microfiche collection. While the main tower is quite striking, the most famous part of the library is the enormous stained glass window in the West Wing showing Elena Cornaro Piscopia, the first woman to earn a doctorate in Europe, receiving her degree from the University of Padua.

32. JAY WALKER'S PRIVATE LIBRARY // USA

Priceline.com founder Jay Walker's gorgeous wooden library, filled with an array of historical and pop culture artifacts, has been labeled by Wired as "the most amazing library in the world.” As if the gorgeous etched glass, labyrinthine design and multiple stories of book shelves weren’t impressive enough, the collection of rarities stored in the library is completely mesmerizing. Between books bound in rubies, a Sputnik, a chandelier from Die Another Day, and a list of plague mortalities from 1665, visitors to the private library might just have a hard time leaving.

33. HAROLD WASHINGTON LIBRARY // USA

This is one of my favorite modern library designs as it takes new construction techniques and applies them to neoclassical building styles. The result is a vintage look with a modern twist. The red brick base perfectly balances the glass rooftop adorned with seven massive aluminum adornments. Best of all, the designers took their inspiration from other famous Chicago buildings, ensuring the whole structure fits in perfectly with its surroundings.

34. BEINECKERARE BOOK LIBRARY IN YALE UNIVERSITY // USA

From the outside, this windowless monstrosity really isn’t much to look at, but the interior of this Yale library is quite impressive and undeniably unique with its beautiful marble walls. The library is now the largest building in the world designed exclusively for the protection of rare books and manuscripts. And it has quite the collection to protect, as the building is home to one of 48 known copies of the Gutenberg Bible, ancient papyri, rare maps, medieval manuscripts, early American newspapers and more.

35. JOSÉ VASCONCELOS LIBRARY // MEXICO

Nicknamed the “megalibrary” by the Mexican press, this giant library takes up a whopping 409,000 square feet, making it large enough to dwarf the painted gray whale skeleton displayed inside the main hallway. Outside of the library is an impressive botanical garden that protects the building from the loud city streets, providing a moat for this castle of knowledge. Inside, over 500,000 books are displayed on glass shelves hanging from the five stories of the building. The end result is as striking as it is stunning.

36. PALAFOXIANA LIBRARY //MEXICO

Established in 1646, this Puebla library was the first public library in Mexico; some even argue that it was the first library in the Americas. It is now listed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register and its 41,000 books and manuscripts include an array of rare and antique titles.

37. THE ARMSTRONG-BROWNING LIBRARY AT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY // USA

Philanthropist Dr. A.J. Armstrong wanted to create the “most beautiful building in Texas,” and the end result was this 3-story, Italian Renaissance-styled masterpiece adorned with 62 stained glass windows, massive marble columns and intricate ceiling designs. Armstrong justified the expense by pointing out that the “compelling beauty” of the building might be able to inspire someone enough that "if we by that means give the world another Dante, another Shakespeare, another Browning, we shall count the cost a bargain."

38. MORGAN LIBRARY // USA

Constructed in 1906, this amazing New York landmark was originally built as the personal library and museum space for financier Pierpont Morgan’s impressive collection of rare books, manuscripts, drawings, artifacts and prints. After Pierpont’s death, his grandson, J.P. Morgan, Jr., opened the library to the public in 1924.

39. BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY // USA

Talk about old school: The Boston Public library, established in 1848, was the first municipal library in all of the U.S. Its first location was a small Massachusetts schoolhouse, but it had to expand almost immediately. In 1895, the current building, called a “palace for the people” by architect Charles Follen McKim, was completed in Copley Square. In 1972, the building was expanded, and it now contains over 8.9 million books, a number of rare manuscripts, maps, musical scores, and prints. It even has first edition folios from Shakespeare and original music scores by Mozart.

40. BRADDOCK CARNEGIE LIBRARY // USA

The first Carnegie library in the U.S., this library was designed in an eclectic medieval style by William Halsey Wood and opened in Pennsylvania in 1889. Only five years later, it received a Romanesque-styled addition, doubling the size of the building. At the time, it featured a variety of entertainment options, including billiards tables on the first floor, a music hall, a gymnasium, and a swimming pool. Additionally, it held a bathhouse in the basement so mill workers could take a shower before accessing the facilities. These days, the bathhouse is a pottery studio, but the tiled floors and walls remain.

41. INDIANAPOLIS PUBLIC LIBRARY // USA

This Indiana library manages to balance old and new influences in a refreshingly unique manner. The original building, completed in 1917, is located in the front of the complex, while a massive, modernized addition from 2007 sits in the background. The first building was designed in the Greek Doric style and is often called one of the most outstanding architectural libraries in the U.S. The addition is just about as modern as can be, with glass and wood paneling throughout the building, and the 6-story, 293,000 square foot tower provides even more space for books and reading rooms.

42. LOS ANGELES CENTRAL LIBRARY //USA

Like the Indianapolis Public Library, the Central Library of Los Angeles features a striking balance between old and new architecture. The original library building was completed in 1926 and featured influences from ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean Revival architecture, including pyramids and mosaics. A 1993 renovation added a new wing with Modernist and Beaux-Arts influences, including an eight story atrium and more storage space for the museum’s ever-growing collection. These days, the library is the third largest public library in the U.S. and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

43. HEARST CASTLE GOTHIC STUDY // USA

Hearst Castle is one of the most famous buildings in California, but most tour groups miss the opportunity to explore the second story of the building, which includes a massive guest library and a cozier gothic library and study. This room also played a vital role in Hearst’s life, as the mogul preferred to use this room as his executive board room, doing business here whenever possible, .

44. Skywalker Ranch Library, USA

If you ever happen to get access to California's Skywalker Ranch, make sure you get a chance to look at the library, which is crowned with a 40-foot stained glass dome that allows employees and guests of Lucas Studios to enjoy their reading in natural light.

45. SUZZALLO LIBRARY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON // USA

This Collegiate Gothic building was completed in 1923 and among its many impressive details are 18 terra-cotta figures set atop the buttresses featuring academic heroes such as Louis Pasteur, Dante, Shakespeare, Plato, Benjamin Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Gutenberg, Beethoven, Darwin, and more. Inside, a series of shields depict the coats of arms from many top universities around the world, including Yale, Oxford, Stanford and Uppsala. While the library is home to many rare volumes, the most famous item in its collection is one of the world’s largest, a photo book of Bhutan by Michael Hawley. Library staff turn the pages about once a month so interested viewers can slowly enjoy the entire work from front to back—assuming they visit regularly.

46. FISHER FINE ARTS LIBRARY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA // USA

In 1888, most architects were focused on Romanesque styles built with marble and granite. But this library’s architect, Frank Furness, wanted the building to reflect the architectural style of Philadelphia’s many red brick factories. Throughout the following years it received a number of additions and alterations and finally, in 1962, most of the school’s collection was moved to a new location and the former main building became the home to the fine arts library.

47. DAVID SASSOON LIBRARY // INDIA

Completed in 1870, the David Sassoon Library is one of only 145 monuments protected by India’s government, and the oldest library in Mumbai. One of its most famous features is the beautiful garden in the back—a rare sight in the commercial area in which it is located.The library and reading room were originally intended to be an entire institute dedicated to mechanics, science and technology, but funding ran short. The Sassoon Mechanic’s Institute was renamed the David Sassoon Library and Reading Room after its primary donor.

48. RAZA LIBRARY // INDIA

The Raza Library in Rampur was completed in 1904, and was once part of a palace. While many of the royal family’s other properties have been left to crumble, the library is still protected by the Indian government—another one of the country’s few protected monuments. The royal family started gathering works for the library way back in 1774. Included in their collection are 17,000 rare manuscripts, 205 hand-written palm leaves and 5000 miniature paintings.

49. THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF CHINA // CHINA

If you’re looking for info on China’s ancient history, the National Library of China’s old buildings might be a good place to start. They serve as the home to a vast array of historical and ancient books and manuscripts—even inscribed tortoise shells. And though the buildings themselves are designed in a traditional Chinese style, they were only completed in 1987.

50. The TIANYI PAVILION LIBRARY // CHINA

If you're looking for real traditional Chinese architecture, you’ll need to leave Beijing and head over to Ningbo City—home to the oldest private library in Asia. Built in 1560 by a retired imperial minister, Tianyi Pavilion Library is the third oldest private library in the world. As you might expect, the collection is rather impressive: 300,000 ancient books, including a number of woodcut and handwritten titles.

51. NATIONAL LIBRARY OF BHUTAN // BHUTAN

Completed in 1984, the National Library of Bhutan is also technically a Buddhist temple, and the structure is intended to integrate the three aspects of Buddha and his teachings: the physical represented by statues and paintings, the speech represented by books and printing blocks, and the heart represented by the eight small bowls found on the shrine on the first floor. The library is home to about 6100 Tibetan and Bhutanese books, manuscripts and xylographs, and about 9000 printing boards and wood printing blocks. While the collection isn’t massive, it is one of the largest collections of Buddhist literature in the world.

52. GRAND PEOPLE’S STUDY HOUSE // NORTH KOREA

The Study House was completed 1982 in honor of Kim Il-Sung’s 70th birthday and features an amazing 600 rooms with capacity for 30 million books. Of course, being housed in North Korea, foreign publications are only available with special permission, so it will probably be a while before all the shelves are full.

53. NAKANOSHIMA LIBRARY // JAPAN

This Neo-Baroque design might not be something you’d immediately associate with Japan, but the 1904 Nakanoshima Library actually fits in quite well in Osaka, as the area has quite a few other stone-walled buildings with similar architecture. This building, complete with a copper roof dome (not visible in the exterior image above), is certainly one of the most stunning.

54. BEITOU LIBRARY // TAIWAN

While this attractive building might not be the most beautiful one on this list, it is undeniably the most eco-friendly and the most modern. The slanted roof collects moisture from humidity and rain, and then recycles it for the restrooms and gardens. The Beitou Library has also been fitted with solar panels and deep-set and latticed windows to reduce energy use.

55. VICTORIAN STATE LIBRARY // AUSTRALIA

This library was first opened in 1856 with a collection of 3,800 books, and the famous domed reading room was opened in 1913. While the dome’s skylights were covered with copper sheets in 1959 due to water leakage, they have since been renovated, allowing beautiful natural light to once again fill the reading room. This library is not only massive – containing over 2 million books – it also has some fantastic rarities, including the diaries of the city’s founders, folios of Captain James Cook, and the armor of famed outlaw Ned Kelly.

56. THE STATE LIBRARY OF NEW WALES // AUSTRALIA

The oldest library in all of Australia, the State Library started as the Australian Subscription Library in 1826, and the current building was built in 1845. The most famous, and most stunning, part of the library is the Mitchell Wing, which was completed in 1910. The wing was named for David Scott Mitchell who had a fantastic collection of older books, including original journals of James Cook. The library now houses over 5 million items, including 2 million books and 1.1 million photographs.

57. THE STATE LIBRARY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA

The State Library of South Australia is not as large as some of the other Australian State libraries, but it does have the distinction of having the largest collection dating from pre-European times in its South Australiana collection. This collection is mostly contained within the Mortlock Wing, the oldest and most gorgeous part of the library. Opened in 1884, the building originally held 23,000 books and employed three librarians. Since then, the collection has expanded so much that two massive buildings had to be added to the library, although the Mortlock Wing remains the most visually impressive.

58. VICTORIAN PARLIAMNTARY LIBRRY // AUSTRALIA

The Parliament House was built in stages, starting in 1855, and the library was one of the first things completed after the Legislative Assembly and Council. While construction continued all the way through 1929, the building’s Roman Revival design is fluent and smooth, so the whole thing seems like one single entity rather than a series of extra wings tagged on throughout the years

59. BARR SMITH LIBRARY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ADELAIDE // AUSTRALIA

In 1927, the last heir to a prominent philanthropic Australian family offered £20,000 to the University of Adelaide for a new library, on the condition that it be named after his father, Robert Barr Smith. The red brick library was completed in 1932, complete with two friezes commemorating the donations of the Barr Smiths. Since the collection expanded quite quickly, addition after addition had to be added. These days, the library holds over two million volumes and now spans over almost 21,000 square meters.

60. UNIVERSITY OF OTAGO CENTRAL LIBRARY // NEW ZEALAND

There are ten different libraries at the University of Otago, and when it comes to looks and impressive collections, the Central Library stands above the rest, with its gorgeous, modern architecture that lets in ample natural light and its Special Collection containing over 9000 books printed before 1801. The library offers over 2000 study spaces for students and over 500,000 books, periodicals and microfilms.

61. THE GEORGE FORBES MEMORIAL LIBRARY AT LINCOLN UNIVERSITY // NEW ZEALAND

Lincoln University isn’t huge, nor is the George Forbes Memorial Library located at the heart of campus inside Ivey Hall, but what they lack in size they make up for in beauty. Ivey Hall was opened in 1880, and while the library was originally opened in the George Forbes Memorial Building in 1960, it was moved into Ivey Hall in 1988 after the building underwent a major refurbishment.

62. TUGGERANONG LIBRARY // AUSTRALIA

Lake Tuggeranong is a man-made body of water created by a dam in 1987. As a result, the suburban town built around the lake is equally new, but with the lovely scenery, it’s no wonder that the local architecture is a step above typical suburban towns. The Tuggeranong Town Center Library is no exception and is, in fact, one of the most picturesque buildings in town—particularly when viewed from the water where you can see its reflection. While it might not be particularly old or have an impressive collection of rare books, with a view like this, it certainly deserves its place on this list.

10 Surprising Facts About Wham!’s 'Last Christmas'

Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Over the course of his illustrious career, George Michael gave the world many gifts. One that keeps on giving is “Last Christmas,” the 1984 holiday classic by Wham!, Michael's pop duo with Andrew Ridgeley. “Last Christmas” is such a uniquely beloved song that it inspired a 2019 film of the same name. That’s just one interesting part of the “Last Christmas” story. Read on for 10 fascinating facts about this seasonal synth-pop favorite.

1. George Michael wrote "Last Christmas" in his childhood bedroom.

“Last Christmas” was born one day in 1984 when George Michael and Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley were visiting Michael’s parents. While they were sitting around watching TV, Michael suddenly dashed upstairs to his childhood bedroom and composed the modern Xmas classic in about an hour. “George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music,” Ridgeley said. “Adding a lyric which told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts."

2. “Last Christmas” isn’t really a Christmas song.

There’s nothing in “Last Christmas” about Santa, reindeer, trees, snow, or anything we typically associate with the holiday. Rather, the song is about a failed romance that just happens to have begun on December 25, when Michael gave someone his heart, and ended on December 26, when this ungrateful person “gave it away.”

3. George Michael wrote and produced the song—but that’s not all.

Singers George Michael (left) and Andrew Ridgeley, of the band 'Wham!', performing on stage, July 1986
Dave Hogan/Getty Images

By the time Wham! recorded “Last Christmas” in August (yes, August) 1984, Michael had taken full control of the group. In addition to writing and producing the song, Michael insisted on playing the Roland Juno-60 synth in the studio. “George wasn’t a musician,” engineer Chris Porter said. “It was a laborious process, because he was literally playing the keyboards with two or three fingers.” Michael even jangled those sweet sleigh bells himself.

4. “Last Christmas” didn’t reach #1 on the UK charts.

As the movie Love Actually reminds us, scoring a Christmas #1 in the UK is a really big deal. Unfortunately, “Last Christmas” didn’t give Wham! that honor. It stalled at #2, and to this day it has the distinction of being the highest-selling UK single of all time to not reach #1.

5. George Michael sang on the song that kept “Last Christmas” at #2.

“Last Christmas” was bested on the UK charts by Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” an all-star charity single benefiting Ethiopian famine relief. Michael sang on “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and was so committed to the cause that he donated his profits from “Last Christmas” to helping the African nation.

6. George Michael was sued for plagiarism over “Last Christmas.”

In the mid-1980s, the publishing company Dick James Music sued George Michael on behalf of the writers of “Can’t Smile Without You,” a schmaltzy love song recorded by The Carpenters and Barry Manilow, among others. According to Chris Porter, the recording engineer on “Last Christmas,” the suit was dismissed after a musicologist presented 60-plus songs that have a similar chord progression and melody.

7. "Last Christmas" has been covered by a lot of other artists.

Andrew Ridgeley (right) and George Michael (1963-2016) of Wham! performing on stage together in Sydney, Australia during the pop duo's 1985 world tour, January 1985.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Jimmy Eat World, Hilary Duff, Good Charlotte, Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen, Gwen Stefani, and Taylor Swift are just a few of the artists who’ve covered “Last Christmas” over the years. The strangest rendition may be the 2006 dance version by the Swedish CGI character Crazy Frog, which reached #16 on the UK charts.

8. Some people make a concerted effort to avoid hearing “Last Christmas.”

While millions of people delight in hearing “Last Christmas” every year, an internet game called Whamageddon encourages players to avoid the song from December 1 to 24. The rules are simple: Once you hear the original Wham! version of “Last Christmas” (remixes and covers don’t count), you’re out. You then admit defeat on social media with the hashtag #Whamageddon and wait for your friends to suffer the same fate. Note: The rules prohibit you from “deliberately sending your friends to Whamhalla.”

9. “Last Christmas” finally charted in America following George Michael’s death in 2016.

Back in 1984, “Last Christmas” wasn’t released as a commercial single in the United States, and therefore it wasn’t eligible for the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Billboard changed its rules in 1998, and in the wake of George Michael’s unexpected death on Christmas Day 2016, the song finally made its Hot 100 debut. In December 2018, it reentered the charts and peaked at #25.

10. George Michael was involved in the Last Christmas movie.

November 2019 saw the release of Paul Feig's Last Christmas, a romantic comedy inspired by the song starring Game of Thrones's Emilia Clarke. Producer David Livingstone came up with the idea while George Michael was still alive, and when he pitched the pop star on the project, he was given the greenlight—with one condition: Michael stipulated that actress and author Emma Thompson write the movie. Thompson co-authored the story and the screenplay, and she even wound up playing a supporting role.

The Origins of 12 Christmas Traditions

Tom Merton/iStock via Getty Images
Tom Merton/iStock via Getty Images

From expecting Santa to fill our footwear with gifts to eating cake that looks like tree bark, the holidays are filled with traditions—some of which are downright odd when you stop and think about them. Where did they come from? Wonder no more. Here are the origins of 12 Christmas traditions.

1. Hanging Stockings

While there’s no official record of why we hang socks for Santa, one of the most plausible explanations is that it's a variation on the old tradition of leaving out shoes with hay inside them on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas’s feast day. Lucky children would discover that the hay they left for St. Nick’s donkey had been replaced with treats or coins when they woke up the next morning. Another story says that St. Nicholas learned of a father who was unable to pay for his three daughters' dowries, so St. Nick dropped gold balls down a chimney, which landed in stockings hung by the fire to dry. But this appears to be a modern telling—traditional versions of the story generally have the gold land at the father's feet after being thrown through a window.

Regardless of what started the tradition, people seem to have realized the need to use a decorative stocking in place of an actual sock pretty early on. In 1883, The New York Times wrote:

"In the days of the unobtrusive white stocking, no one could pretend that the stocking itself was a graceful or attractive object when hanging limp and empty from the foot of the bedstead. Now, however, since the adoption of decorated stockings ... even the empty stocking may be a thing of beauty, and its owner can display it with confidence both at the Christmas season and on purely secular occasions."

2. Caroling

Though it may seem like a centuries-old tradition, showing up at people’s houses to serenade them with seasonal tunes only dates back to the 19th century. Before that, neighbors did visit each other to impart wishes of good luck and good cheer, but not necessarily in song. Christmas carols themselves go back hundreds of years, minus the door-to-door part. The mashup of the two ideas didn’t come together until Victorian England, when caroling was part of every holiday—even May Day festivals. As Christmas became more commercialized, caroling for the occasion became more popular.

3. Using Evergreens as Christmas Trees

Rows of Christmas trees at tree farm on cold winter morning
arlutz73/iStock via Getty Images

Before Christianity was even conceived of, people used evergreen boughs to decorate their homes during the winter; the greenery reminded them that plants would return in abundance soon. As Christianity became more popular in Europe, and Germany in particular, the tradition was absorbed into it. Christians decorated evergreen trees with apples to represent the Garden of Eden, calling them "Paradise Trees" around the time of Adam and Eve's name day—December 24. Gradually, the tradition was subsumed into Christmas celebrations.

The tradition spread as immigrants did, but the practice really took off when word got around that England’s Queen Victoria decorated a Christmas tree as a nod to her German husband’s heritage (German members of the British royal family had previously had Christmas trees, but they never caught on with the wider public). Her influence was felt worldwide, and by 1900, one in five American families had a Christmas tree. Today, 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year.

4. The Colors Red and Green

As with many other old Christmas traditions, there’s no hard-and-fast event that deemed red and green the Official Colors of Christmas™. But there are theories—the green may have derived from the evergreen tradition that dates back to before Christianity, and the red may be from holly berries. While they’re winter-hardy, just like evergreens, they also have a religious implication: The red berries have been associated with the blood of Christ.

5. Ugly Christmas Sweaters

To celebrate this joyous season, many people gleefully don hideous knitwear adorned with ribbons, sequins, bows, and lights. In the past, the trend was embraced solely by grandmas, teachers, and fashion-challenged parents, but in the last decade or so, the ugly sweater has gone mainstream. We may have Canada to blame for that: According to the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book, the ugly sweater party trend can be traced to a 2001 gathering in Vancouver.

6. Leaving Milk and Cookies for Santa

Closeup image of wish list and treats for Santa Claus on table next to burning fireplace
Artfoliophoto/iStock via Getty Images

When we plunk a few Oreos or chocolate chip cookies on a plate for St. Nick, accompanied by a cold glass of milk, we’re actually participating in a tradition that some scholars date back to ancient Norse mythology. According to legend, Odin had an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir. Kids would leave treats for Sleipnir, hoping that Odin would favor them with gifts in return. The practice became popular again in the U.S. during the Great Depression, when parents tried to impress upon kids the importance of being grateful for anything they were lucky enough to receive for Christmas.

7. The A Christmas Story Marathon on TBS

If one of the highlights of your holiday is tuning in for 24 hours of watching Ralphie Parker nearly shoot his eye out, you’re not alone—over the course of the day, more than 50 million viewers flip to TBS. The marathon first aired on TNT in 1997, then switched to sister station TBS in 2004. This Christmas marks the 20th year for the annual movie marathon.

8. Yule Logs

Chocolate yule log cake with red currant on wooden background
etorres69/iStock via Getty Images

Throwing a yule log on the fire is another tradition that is said to predate Christianity. As part of winter solstice celebrations, Gaels and Celts burned logs decorated with holly, ivy, and pinecones to cleanse themselves of the past year and welcome the next one. They also believed the ashes would help protect against lightning strikes and evil spirits. The practice was scaled down over time, and eventually, it morphed into a more delicious tradition—cake! Parisian bakers really popularized the practice of creating yule log-shaped desserts during the 19th century, with various bakeries competing to see who could come up with the most elaborately decorated yule log.

If you prefer a wood yule log to one covered in frosting, but find yourself sans fireplace, you can always tune in to Yule Log TV.

9. Advent Calendars

Technically, Advent, a religious event that has been celebrated since the 4th century, is a four-week period that starts on the Sunday closest to the November 30 feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle. Traditionally, it marked the period to prepare for Christmas as well as the Second Coming. These days, it’s mostly used as a countdown to Christmas for the religious and the non-religious alike.

The modern commercialized advent calendar, which marks the passage of December days with little doors containing candy or small gifts, are believed to have been introduced by Gerhard Lang in the early 1900s. He was inspired by a calendar that his mother made for him when he was a child that featured 24 colored pictures attached to a piece of cardboard. Today, advent calendars contain everything from candy to LEGOs.

10. Eggnog

Eggnog in two glass cups
GreenArtPhotography/iStock via Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would be inspired to chug a raw egg-based drink, but historians agree that 'nog was probably inspired by a medieval drink called posset, a milky drink made with eggs, milk, and sometimes figs or sherry. These were all pricey ingredients, so the wealthy often used it for toasting.

Eggnog became a holiday drink when colonists brought it over from England, but they found a way to make it on the cheap, nixing the figs and substituting rum for sherry. And how about that weird "nog" name? No one knows for sure, but historians theorize that nog was short for noggin, which was slang for a wooden cup, or a play on the Norfolk variety of beer also called nog (which itself may be named after the cup).

11. Mistletoe

Mistletoe has been associated with fertility and vitality since ancient times, when Celtic Druids saw it as such because it blossomed even during the most frigid winters; the association stuck over the centuries.

It’s easy to see how fertility and kissing can be linked, but no one is quite sure how smooching under the shrub (actually, it’s a parasitic plant) became a common Christmas pastime. We do know the tradition was popular with English servants in the 18th century, then quickly spread to those they served. The archaic custom once allowed men to steal a kiss from any woman standing beneath; if she refused, they were doomed with bad luck.

12. Christmas Cards

Exchanging holiday greetings via mail is a surprisingly recent tradition, with the first formal card hitting shelves in 1843. Designed by an Englishman named J.C. Horsley, the cardboard greeting showed a happy group of people participating in a toast, along with the printed sentiment, "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.” A thousand of them were printed that first year, and because it cost just a penny to mail a holiday hello to friends and family (the card itself was a shilling, or 12 times as much), the cards sold like hotcakes and a new custom was born. Today, Americans send around 2 billion cards every year.

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